India could well reach Millennium Development Goals by this year

Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to put an end to preventable deaths of mothers and children, while addressing the inaugural session of the two-day Call to Action 2015 summit, in which 24 countries are participating here on Thursday. Taking pride in the fact that India was the first to host the prestigious international meet, outside of the U.S., he said the summit will showcase the power of new partnerships, innovations and systems to bring about improvements in life-saving interventions.

Inviting the participating countries to jointly address the challenge of reducing maternal and child mortality, he said, “Let us acknowledge the sad reality that the world continues to lose about 2, 89,000 mothers and 6.3 million under-5 children every year. The 24 priority countries participating in the Summit contribute nearly 70 per cent of the preventable maternal and child deaths. For India, with its birth cohort of 26 million, the challenges are formidable but the commitment to succeed is also as strong,” he said.

Achievements so far

The Prime Minister also highlighted the significant achievements on the global front in the area of maternal and child health. “Looking at the big picture, we find that in 1990, India’s under-five mortality rate stood at 126 while the global average was 90. In 2013, this figure dropped to 49 against a global average of 46. Therefore, the gap to the global average reduced from 36 points in 1990, to just 3 points in 2013 reflecting that India has achieved under-five mortality rate decline at an accelerated pace compared to global rate of decline. What this translates into is this: India is likely to reach close to achieving the MDG target if the current trend of annual decline is sustained,” he said.

He further acknowledged the “truly historic accomplishment has been the victory over Polio” as India had been declared as “Polio-Free” on 27 March 2014. “From being a country which accounted for more than half of the global polio cases in 2009, to being declared free of the wild polio virus: the journey reflects India’s deep commitment to child health,” he said.

Another major milestone, which Mr. Modi mentioned was India’s elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus, ahead of the global target date of December 2015. To sustain the efforts of being a Polio-free and maternal and neonatal tetanus free nation, and to accelerate the full immunisation coverage in the country, the Government has added to the world’s largest immunization drive another mission known as “Mission Indradhanush”, he said. “Focusing on vaccinating the left-outs, it seeks to accelerate the current increase in the annual rate of immunisation from the existing 1 per cent to more than 5 per cent per year,” he said, adding that the government’s aim was to ensure that “no child in India dies of a vaccine-preventable disease.” He also drew attention to the India Newborn Action Plan (INAP) launched in September 2014, targeting reduction in Neonatal Mortality Rate (NMR) and still births to single digit by 2030.

Equity in health outcomes

Referring to attaining equity as a major concern, Mr. Modi said that to aid regions suffering from intra-state disparities in accessing health services, and to bring about sharper improvements in health outcomes, a total of 184 poorest performing districts all over the country have been identified and special efforts are being made to put in more resources and focused programmes in these areas.

Finally, Mr. Modi emphasised the international nature of the commitment. “Last year, I had made a commitment of assisting the SAARC countries in keeping it Polio free. We have also made a commitment to provide Pentavalent vaccines to such SAARC countries as would need it. We will offer whatever experience we have to the world community,” he assured the participating countries in the summit.

The two-day summit aims to discuss strategies while the world transits from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals this year end. The call to accelerate the joint leadership to end all preventable maternal and child deaths also formed a crucial part of the joint statement issued subsequent to the visit of the U.S. President Barack Obama in January this year.

Source: The HIndu

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#2015, #28, #august, #hindu

Questions of timing and context

Numbers lend themselves to words in myriad, complex ways. Data on population by religious communities in a country of India’s size and diversity can be especially sensitive, with deep, long-term implications for communal harmony and political stability. Going by experience, population figures in terms of just religious affiliation will only serve as fodder for political groups pursuing conservative and majoritarian agendas. Without any correlation to other demographic features such as income, education, occupation and mortality rates, to merely present the rates of growth in the population of specific religious communities as stand-alone facts makes no sense at all. For a government to authorise the release of such potentially polarising data almost randomly, without taking any institutional responsibility, is highly questionable. The Registrar General of India, who reports to the Union Home Ministry, was given the clearance by the Prime Minister’s Office, but not enough thought appears to have gone into the issues that might crop up consequent to the release of such data. The release came unannounced, almost as a matter of routine. Neither the Home Ministry nor the PMO took responsibility: there was no media briefing by any minister or official, just the release of raw data without providing context. The inescapable conclusion is that the government was not worried about the sensitive nature of the data, and about their potentially divisive effects in the absence of explanatory addenda. All collections of data are value-neutral, but the manner of their release and potential for use and misuse are not.

Of course, even in 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government allowed the release of the data on population by religious communities, the situation was not very different. The then Census Commissioner, J.K. Banthia, defended the release of demographic characteristics based on religious composition as being in the public interest and resulting ultimately in public good. Though the collection of data on religion has always been part of the census exercise, 2004 was the first time such data were released as a separate report. What is intriguing is that the manner of the release of the 2011 data is in sharp contrast to the care being taken in the release of the caste census of groups other than the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. If the release of such data is to serve any purpose, that should be to better direct policy initiatives to target socio-economic backwardness of specific groups. That the release was timed close to the Bihar Assembly election injects an unnecessary political taint. But what is most disconcerting is that the government did not step forward to take institutional responsibility, or to provide an explanation of why it was necessary to release such inherently polarising data without clear context. Governments are meant to uphold peace among communities; law and order is their primary responsibility. It is therefore important that when sensitive data of this kind are released, they take citizens into confidence on the context of such data.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #27, #august